A trip to Ibiza to watch the sunset at Cafe del Mar may be off the cards for most this summer, but there’s always Blackpool.
Sitting with a gin and tonic in the Bloom Bar at the end of the North Pier reaffirmed my long-held belief that there is nowhere better to watch the sun dip below the horizon than the Lancastrian coast. Even the seagulls, chip-nicking menaces by day, take on a poetic quality as silhouettes in the pinky-purple evening light, with Black Combe, the Lake District’s most western fell, just visible to the north.
There is nowhere better to watch the sun dip below the horizon than the Lancastrian coast
My friend Alex and I had hoped for a trip to Spain, but settled instead for Blackpool. We were lured by the prospect of the Art B&B, a new boutique hotel on the seafront. Run as a Community Interest Company – investing its profits in the town’s burgeoning cultural scene, it began life two years ago as an artists’ retreat, and opened to the public last year between lockdowns.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. My history with Blackpool B&Bs is not the happiest. The last time the Guardian dispatched me to the resort I stayed in a hotel that fined customers if they dared to leave a bad review on Trip Advisor.
Painted a sophisticated dark grey, the Art B&B makes a smart first impression. Inside things get a little more confusing. On the floor in the lobby is an upside down ice-cream – an arty joke rather than an accident – and the lights above the stairwell hang at an angle suggesting a recent earthquake.
“Nobody on the inside” said the lettering on the door to my sea-view room. I should hope not, I thought, remembering when I once checked into a hotel and had been relaxing on the bed for a good half hour before I realised someone else’s luggage was already in situ, the bathroom door locked.
Different artists have decorated each of the 18 rooms to create art installations you can sleep in. The rooms range from subtle to, well, not. The Queer Room, by Jez Dolan, includes drag queen art and Blackpool-themed wallpaper. Mine, with classy teal walls and two huge windows for watching the tides, was decorated by artist and magician Augusto Corrieri. Loosely magic themed, it has photographs hidden behind little red velvet curtains. According to the hotel, “the real magic happens when you fall asleep and they conjure imagination and creativity in the right side of your brain to help combat the restlessness of the first night effect”.
That’s nice in theory but as we are right on the prom, five minutes’ walk from Blackpool Tower, a lot of very drunk people pass by from dusk until sunrise. Despite a fabulously comfy kingsized bed, I awoke at 3am to the sound of some Geordies fighting and then dozed on and off until I heard the street sweepers clearing up the mess they’d made.
But who goes to Blackpool for a relaxing night’s sleep? Not me. When I was growing up further round the coast in Morecambe, Blackpool – Blackers to us fellow “sand grown ’uns” – was where we went for fun and naughtiness. As teenagers my friends and I once all told our parents we were at each other’s houses and snuck off here, paying a tenner a head for a backstreet B&B – the kind that charged double if you tried to smuggle in a visitor (“if he stays, he pays”).
Returning to the Pleasure Beach several decades later, I found that not much had changed, apart from the fact you now buy day passes (from £32 in advance) instead of tickets for individual rides. The Grand National rollercoaster, where two carriages race each other and cross tracks, feels as perilous as ever, and I’m still too frightened to go on The Big One, with its vertiginous drop-off.
I had promised Alex a visit to what I described as a truly terrible waxworks museum. Alas, the brilliantly awful Louis Tussauds closed 10 years ago, replaced by an outpost of Madame Tussauds (Louis’s distant relative). Some will be glad of the raising of sculpting standards, but I preferred it when the fun came from guessing who on Earth had been immortalised in wax. Most of the exhibits now seem linked to TV and film franchises, with much of the museum taken up by sections on I’m A Celebrity, Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor and Marvel Comics. Still, we had a giggle snuggling up to a waxy Simon Cowell for photos and trying to out-Hulk the Hulk.
For our weekend of high-low entertainment, we splashed out on dinner at the Beach House, right on the seafront next to the North Pier. Recently redesigned with a Malibu vibe, it has peerless sea views and an eclectic menu that goes well beyond Blackpool staples. But sometimes the staples are what you crave, and the next day I got takeaway from The Sea chippy and washed it down with a can of Irn-Bru, sitting on the sea steps. You wouldn’t get that in Ibiza.
• Accommodation was provided by Art B&B, which has doubles from £109 room-only, breakfast from £8pp